How To Handle Sick Employees At Work

If you’ve been watching the news recently, you know that the flu is very rampant in the United States this year. Every year the flu season gets millions of Americans sick, and this causes a loss of productivity levels at work. This season has been particularly challenging, and if you’re a parent, your kids may have even had a flu day this year. According to the Center For Disease Control (CDC), the risk for the flu is high right now, and that risk isn’t going down any time soon. Are you prepared for how to handle a sick workplace right now?

Do you want to learn how to handle another workplace issue? Check out our recent article on how to handle employees who sleep at work.

Presenteeism Is Worse Than Absenteeism

According to the Harvard Business Review, presenteeism, or people showing up to work while sick, accounts for $150 billion in lost productivity every year. While absenteeism for missing work is a problem, making people come to work while sick isn’t the solution. You are putting you and your employees at risk if you continue to allow employees to come to work while sick.

Provide An Allotted Amount Of Sick Days

Your employees need to be able to take off time when they need it. Provide a certain number of sick days each year and make those different from vacation days. Your employees shouldn’t have to eat into their vacation time because they are sick. Sick days are not vacation days.

On the note of sick days, we believe that your employees shouldn’t need proof to use a sick day. We are all capable of realizing that we are sick. Sometimes going to the doctor is the remedy, but sometimes you need a few days to rest, drink tea, and take some cough syrup.

Let People Who Feel Sick Work From Home

If you can’t set an allotted amount of sick days or your employees have tapped their sick days, let them work from home. It’s a great compromise, but you do need to be aware that the output your sick employees give might not be as significant as a traditional work from home day. Is it worth the money you’d spend? Would it make more financial sense to let them rest, feel better, and come back to work at maximum capacity?

Provide Items To Help Everyone Protect Themselves At Work

With germs spreading around the office, you want to make sure your employees are as prepared as possible. Here are some items you might want to have at work:

  • Tissues
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Soap
  • Disinfectant Spray/Wipes
  • Juice
  • Tea
  • Honey (and a honey alternative for vegans)
  • Cough drops/lozenges

You likely can’t provide anything too substantial to your employees, but anything you can provide to soothe their sickness or help them fight illness is a great thing to offer.

Offer Better Health Insurance/Wellness Programs

One of the best things you can do as an employer is offer better health insurance and wellness programs to your employees. It’s challenging to get a proper diagnosis if your health insurance doesn’t cover the best doctors or tests. Instead of offering the bare minimum in health insurance coverage, see if you can provide something more helpful. What do the copays look like on your company’s health insurance plan? How can you provide a better experience for your employees?

Partner With A Doctor Or Nurse To Give Out Flu Shots At Work

Do you want to offer a great wellness benefit and get a better handle on sick employees? Partner with someone to give flu shots at work. Getting flu shots at a local store or doctor’s office can be a challenge–those places may not be open when your employee is off the clock. By providing flu vaccinations at work, you are giving your employee’s some control over this flu season.

You shouldn’t make getting a flu shot mandatory. Have flu shots at work for employees who want them. You may even consider allowing them to bring their immediate family for flu shots as well.

Don’t Be Afraid To Cancel Work If It Gets Too Bad

Many schools and workplaces across the country have had to close up shop thanks to the flu this year. Sometimes it makes more financial sense to close down your work and let people recuperate instead of forcing a smaller team to come into work.

While everyone is gone, go on a disinfectant mission. Wipe down all your surfaces and everything people touch. Get your company prepped with all the materials you need to have a better next few weeks once everyone returns.

Don’t think of this break as an issue, think of it as a reset that will help you and your sick employees


Being sick at work isn’t fun for anyone. Instead of forcing your employees to come to work when they feel under the weather, have some compassion for them. You’ll get much more done if you don’t have to hear sneezes and coughs all day. You’ll also lower the chances that disease is spread to more of your employees.

How do you prepare for the flu and cold season at work?